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10 Latin Language References Hidden in Harry Potter

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istock (background) / Warner Bros (Harry Potter)

“I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics,” J.K. Rowling said in a 2011 commencement speech at Harvard. “They might well have found out for the first time on graduation day.” Before this future novelist arrived at the University of Exeter in 1983, Rowling’s mother and father had dissuaded her from focusing on English literature. Eventually, she agreed to set her sights on modern languages instead.

In the end, Rowling studied French, which she’s since called “a mistake.” But her chosen minor would pay off big-time. As a Classics student, Rowling’s coursework later helped flesh out Harry Potter’s magical world, for at Hogwarts, the tongue of ancient Rome is alive and well. Every other page in the series is loaded with Latin—here are some of our favorite nods.

1. Accio

When Harry and the gang use this helpful charm, desired objects (like broomsticks) come flying over. Originally, the word meant—among other things—“send (for)”, “summon (forth),” or “fetch.”

2. Expecto Patronum

According to Rowling, non-muggle Latin had been evolving for thousands of years by the time her books take place. Hence, a few definitions got tweaked. As she said in 2000, “It just amused me, the idea that wizards would still be using Latin as a living language, although it is, as scholars of Latin will know … I take great liberties with the language for spells. I see it as a kind of mutation that the wizards are using.”

Case in point: Expecto patronum means “I await a patron.” In classical Rome, a “patronus” was a rich citizen who would pay and offer legal protection to some of his poorer associates who’d show their gratitude by providing various services—an awfully far cry from those animal-shaped, dementor-fighting guardians Rowling came up with.

3. Evanesco

Here’s a disappearing spell—which Neville Longbottom casts on his own desk—that literally means “to vanish.” Sounds about right.

4. Incendio

Who’s up for another no-brainer? Shouting “Incendio!” helps Mr. Weasley light the Dursley’s fireplace. Oh, and by the way, incendiarius is Latin for “fire-raising.”

5. Expelliarmus

When you’ve gotten this one down pat, disarming an opponent becomes child’s play. The incantation loosely combines expellere (“drive out” or “expel”) and arma (“weapon”).

6. Nox

Whispering the Latin word for “night” is basically the astute young wizard’s answer to those trendy “clap-off” lamps—it extinguishes the glow at the end of your wand.

7. Crucio, the Cruciatus Curse

One of the three unforgivable curses in Harry’s world, this spell inflicts unbearable, agonizing pain upon its target. Naturally, Voldemort loves it. Cruciare means “torment/torture” and is related to the English term “crucifixion.”

8. Severus Snape

Severus is how Latin-speakers say “severe” or “serious.” That about sums up Snape’s chilly personality.

9. Draco Malfoy

Linguistically, there’s a connection between this obnoxious bully and Disney’s scariest villain. Like Sleeping Beauty’s devil-horned Maleficent, Malfoy can be traced back to malus, which means “bad,” “evil,” or “wicked.” As for his first name, Draco translates to “dragon”—a Latinization of the ancient Greek word drakōn. Be that as it may, just about every fire-breathing reptile in the series is a good deal nicer than Malfoy...

10. Professor Lupin

No wonder this guy got himself bitten by a werewolf! With a name like Lupin, Harry’s third Defense Against the Dark Arts professor had it coming—after all, not only does lupus mean “wolf,” but the extant gray wolf is scientifically known as Canis lupus.

BONUS: HOGWARTS’ SCHOOL MOTTO

While it isn’t exactly “hidden,” this deserves a quick mention. Like a number of real schools and universities, Hogwarts pours on the prestige with a Latin slogan: Draco Dormiens Numquam Titillandus or “Never Tickle a Sleeping Dragon.” Eat your heart out, Yale.

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Kyle Ely
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Dedicated Middle School Teacher Transforms His Classroom Into Hogwarts
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Kyle Ely

It would be hard to dread back-to-school season with Kyle Ely as your teacher. As ABC News reports, the instructor brought a piece of Hogwarts to Evergreen Middle School in Hillsboro, Oregon by plastering his classroom with Harry Potter-themed decor.

The journey into the school's makeshift wizarding world started at his door, which was decorated with red brick wall paper and a "Platform 9 3/4" sign above the entrance. Inside, students found a convincing Hogwarts classroom complete with floating candles, a sorting hat, owl statues, and house crests. He even managed to recreate the starry night sky effect of the school’s Great Hall by covering the ceiling with black garbage bags and splattering them with white paint.

The whole project cost the teacher around $300 to $400 and took him 70 hours to build. As a long-time Harry Potter fan, he said that being able to share his love of the book series with his students made it all pay off it. He wrote in a Facebook post, "Seeing their faces light up made all the time and effort put into this totally worth it."

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Inside of Harry Potter-themed classroom.

Though wildly creative, the Hogwarts-themed classroom at Evergreen Middle School isn't the first of its kind. Back in 2015, a middle school teacher in Oklahoma City outfitted her classroom with a potions station and a stuffed version of Fluffy to make the new school year a little more magical. Here are some more unique classroom themes teachers have used to transport their kids without leaving school.

[h/t ABC News]

Images courtesy of Kyle Ely.

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How the Rise of Paperback Books Turned To Kill a Mockingbird Into a Literary Classic
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If you went to middle or high school in the U.S. in the last few decades, chances are you’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee's now-classic novel (which was adapted into a now-classic film) about racial injustice in the South. Even if you grew up far-removed from Jim Crow laws, you probably still understand its significance; in 2006, British librarians voted it the one book every adult should read before they die. And yet the novel, while considered an instant success, wasn’t always destined for its immense fame, as we learned from the Vox video series Overrated. In fact, its status in the American literary canon has a lot to do with the format in which it was printed.

To Kill a Mockingbird came out in paperback at a time when literary houses were just starting to invest in the format. After its publication in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was reviewed favorably in The New York Times, but it wasn’t the bestselling novel that year. It was the evolution of paperbacks that helped put it into more hands.

Prior to the 1960s, paperbacks were often kind of trashy, and when literary novels were published in the format, they still featured what Vox calls “sexy covers,” like a softcover edition of The Great Gatsby that featured a shirtless Jay Gatsby on the cover. According to a 1961 article in The New York Times, back in the 1950s, paperbacks were described as “a showcase for the ‘three S’s—sex, sadism, and the smoking gun.’” But then, paperbacks came to schools.

The mass-market paperback for To Kill a Mockingbird came out in 1962. It was cheap, but had stellar credentials, which appealed to teachers. It was a popular, well-reviewed book that earned Lee the Pulitzer Prize. Suddenly, it was in virtually every school and, even half a century later, it still is.

Learn the whole story in the video below from Vox.

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